Reviewed 13 March 2014
Milton Keynes Theatre
This Fallen Women season from the Welsh National Opera contains two versions of the Manon Lescaut story. Hans Werner Henze’s version, his first full opera and staged in 1952, sets the story just after WWII in Paris. It was a success at the time and continues to be regularly performed.
(director) and Boris Kudička (designer) use almost the same
set here as they do for Manon Lescaut; centre stage is an
underground station with cocktail bar occasionally visited by
commuters on the moving pathway behind and drinkers around the bar,
manned by a tattooed barman throughout.
The opening is powerful, depicting the scene of the murder, portrayed in extreme slow motion and beautifully lit by Felice Ross – reminiscent of the beauty of Edward Hopper's paintings. This scene is then repeated twice more; not necessary as the Manon narrative is straightforward and needs no defining. Perhaps though, the story is considered thin enough to warrant this device. The doubles of Manon as well as the sinister men (her clients no doubt) sporting pigs’ heads seem to have been used to ‘flesh out’ the production in a sense. I’m not sure that this aspect of Treliński’s direction does anything to enhance the story.
Vocal performances are superb throughout. Jason Bridges, plays Des Grieux sympathetically, displaying fragility, despite his large frame, with his plaintive vocal performance . Benjamin Bevan as the morally corrupt Lescaut is a commanding presence when on stage. Adrian Thompson, as Lilaque, is believable. It is Sarah Tynan’s performance though, which is strongest. Her voice clear and pure, she plays Manon suitably hard-heartedly and it’s as difficult to engage with her character as it is with the others. In a story where sex is depicted as cold, obsessive and devoid of any sense of desire the feeling of destruction and emptiness at the end is complete.
It is the music though
that makes the evening so interesting. Henze's blend of so many
genres weaves beautifully into a wonderful score. Conductor Lothar
Koenigs clearly loves this challenge and is obviously enjoying
himself - looking delighted at his curtain
On tour. Visit http://www.wno.org.uk/whats-on for venues and tickets
********For Sue ********